How to spot this year's political football contenders

Utah's spectacular undefeated 2008 season, which led to the school's having no chance to claim the national title that Florida won, set a congressional record by forcing two off-season hearings on Capitol Hill.

It spurred a new preseason prognostication category: school from outside the six power conferences most likely to force an antitrust investigation called by a political representative/opportunist who seeks justice, a playoff and the chance to sing his school's fight song on C-SPAN.

This year's candidates:

5. Utah (Mountain West). Most valuable political ally (MVPA): Sen. Orrin Hatch. It was Orrin the orator who blew his subcommittee hatch after voters apparently conspired to keep Utah out of the Bowl Championship Series title game. One coach last year had the audacity to vote Utah only No. 5 in the final USA Today coaches' poll, which is used to help determine the BCS standings.

The culprit was . . . Utah Coach Kyle Whittingham, who then jumped his team to No. 1 after the Utes defeated Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. No one called an investigation for that.

Utah lost a lot of key players from last year's 13-0 squad, so getting snubbed by the BCS this year will take some work.

4. Nevada (Western Athletic). MVPA: Sen. Harry Reid, majority leader. If Nevada, led by talented and gangly quarterback Colin Kaepernick, upsets Notre Dame in South Bend on Sept. 5 and goes undefeated, look for Reid to jump off healthcare reform and onto the Wolf Pack bandwagon.

3. Brigham Young (Mountain West). MVPA: Hatch (again!). Last year, BYU had a decent shot to make the BCS title game after starting the season ranked No. 17 in the USA Today coaches' poll (Utah was unranked). But the Cougars lost the two games (Texas Christian and Utah) they needed to win. The school, though, gets a chance at a BCS do-over, returning star quarterback Max Hall and running back Harvey Unga. And this year Utah and TCU have to play in Provo.

2. Texas Christian (Mountain West). MVPA: Rep. Joe Barton. It was Barton, the Texas congressman, who called for hearings last spring and then hilariously hammed it up in the hearing room with fellow Texas Rep. Gene Green, who led the anti-BCS debate after placing a University of Houston helmet next to his nameplate. Barton and Green may be joining inquiry forces again with TCU, which returns a stalwart defense and favored-team status in the Mountain West.

1. Boise State (WAC). MVPA: Sen. Mike Crapo. Boise State, the clear-cut choice to win the WAC, can start making its BCS case so long as it doesn't blow up in the home opener against Oregon on Sept. 3. The Broncos, like Utah, were undefeated in the regular season last year but left out of the BCS mix. Boise State then lost by a point to TCU in a very exciting Poinsettia Bowl and will be counting on talented sophomore quarterback Kellen Moore to lead the Broncos to another bowl game and BCS hearing.


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